The other day, on the internet, this unintentionally hilarious article about yoga happened. Skinny mini of the caucasian persuasion hits up local vinyasa class only to spend the entire hour and a half obsessing over yogic struggles of tubby black girl behind her rather than concentrating on her breathing. The editors at The Onion, who generally pride themselves on the tragic fact that many of their farcical creations are actually predictions instead of vice versa, are kicking themselves over not thinking of this.
In any case, as I walked into Yoga to the People last night, I was thinking not about my personal yoga but yoga classes, and how difficult it really is to achieve the goal of the class. The YTTP that I go to is on St Mark’s Place, meaning that the writer of the “black woman in yoga” article wouldn’t even make it past the first child’s pose without having an attack of extreme racial sympathy and floating out the door. That said, I do see where she’s coming from in terms of having difficulty concentrating. I would never notice the race of the woman behind me because when there is a woman behind me in yoga I get bored and just try to concentrate with my eyes closed. I would probably notice the race of a man behind me, but I would probably focus more on his pecs than his pigmentation. I would definitely notice a fat person, and I would certainly notice an old person. Keep in mind that the studio is in the heart of
the East Village NYU Land, so anyone over 25 is essentially a dinosaur, and anyone over 125 pounds probably goes to CUNY.
But yoga, for the record, is about breathing, about silencing the mind, and, if you want, connecting in some way to a divine or supreme force or energy. It’s about going inside yourself, returning to a stillness, unconcerned with traffic or trains or competition or oblique muscles. But this is New York, so yoga classes, however well intentioned, can morph into vicious repetitions of chair pose and who can be more nude and not gross people out. Super flexible people will hold certain poses (Standing Bow, you know who you are) until people have moved well into their flow sequence, promoting the instructor to have to say something like: “It’s about the unity…it’s about breathing…together…stay together…” when in reality, you KNOW they want to say: “Put your leg down, bitch! It’s my class and I call the poses!”
Yet, can you blame the showoffs? For every too-long-headstander, there’s the cult followers of the illogical idea that pops up in exercise memes every couple of days about how 90% of success is just showing up. So many things have become about the check-in, the mere presence at the event, the idea being that it’s better to sit on a yoga mat and meditate for 60 minutes than it is to sit on your couch with Chinese food and binge-watch television. But is it? What’s the point of going to a yoga class if you’re going to be dropping your arms down every three seconds, sitting down whenever you want, and talking to your friend? There was a couple next to me during one class who, I kid you not, began to kiss during savasana. I’m all for sharing the love, but couldn’t they just, like, touch pinkies or something, and wait till they got down to 8th Street to start with the lip lock?
Yoga to the People is unique in that it’s a donation-based studio. What this means is that, while they recommend a donation of $10 per class – quite reasonable for downtown – there’s no one checking what you put in the box at the end of class. As someone whose finances dart from flush to skint three times a week, it’s an amazing comfort to know that, if I only have three dollars to spare, I can still take a class, which will allow me to keep calm and carry on the rest of my penniless day. (Seriously, if I have to pay for my 75-cent coffee in nickels one more time, I may just move to Harligen, Texas). As a writer, I like that going to this yoga class not only lets me work out and get centered, but also gives me enough irritation to fill a blog post. Finally, it’s probably one of the only yoga studios in the world where at least 50% of its practitioners light up a cigarette as soon as they get outside the building. As I always say, everything in moderation.